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Of Islam, Anti-Islam, and Other Extremisms

Both of the apparent front-runners for the nominations of America’s two major political parties have now weighed in on the latest deadly instance of radical Islamic terrorism, and a long-dreaded clash of civilizations suddenly becomes all the more inevitable. One party continues to insist there is no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism, at least a daunting plurality of the other party is willing to embrace the most extreme measures to combat it, and no one is getting noticed by advocating a more hopeful path down the middle.
Although former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton still steadfastly refuses to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” and prefers to more politely speak of a “perverted form of Islam” and “jihadism,” she and her party have lately been talking some tougher talk. Her former boss has acknowledged that the recent massacre in San Bernardino was an act of some sort of unspecific terrorism, and even went so far as to hint it had something to do with that perverted sort of Islam, his Attorney General is walking back talk about prosecuting any criticism of even the perverted sort of Islam that might cross over from First Amendment bounds to “edging toward violence,” there’s an effort to get everyone on the “no fly list” from buying a gun, and Clinton wants to crack down on the politely-named movement’s internet communications. All of which seems calculated to postpone that clash of civilizations until the most inopportune moment for the west.
A begrudging presidential acknowledgement that what happened in San Bernardino was terrorism heartening, as was the long awaited acknowledgement that what happened in Fort Hood was as well, and it’s nice to hear an Attorney General affirm her commitment to the First Amendment, although we still wish her earlier statements hadn’t made it necessary, and we expect that with pressure from recently terrorized France and Russia that the bombing of the Islamic State will soon become more effective, but they’re only going so far as their dreadful poll numbers will push them. That talk of a “perverted form of Islam” ignores the apparent meaning of more than 100 Koranic scriptures commanding jihad, or “jihadism” if Clinton prefers, as well as the past 1,400 years of Islamic clashes with the west, which predate global warming or George W. Bush or the statehood of Israel or western imperialism or any of the Democratic party’s usual excuses, and it raises understandable doubts about their ability to combat that which they dare not name.
The tough talk about denying guns to those on the “no-fly list,” which all the up-to-date Democrats were rightly decrying as a ridiculous abuse of due process for any innocent sucker that happened to land up there, including former Sen. Ten Kennedy and some conservative journalists and 70-some employees of the Homeland Security Department, an agency which we’re assured is efficiently protecting us, is transparently part of a broader effort to deny guns to all law-abiding citizens. Clinton’s call for a crackdown on the Islamic State’s use of “social media” makes a certain amount of sense, but there’s also a certain suspicion that it’s part of her party’s publicly stated broader plans for regulating the internet, and there’s even a vague worry on our part that our own electronically published worries about the past 1,400 years of clashes between Islam and the west might be considered “edging toward violence.”
In any case, we are not all reassured that the Democratic party or any of its potential leaders are able to frankly confront the current crisis. Their continued insistence on an unprecedented flow of immigration from the Middle East, including tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, most of whom are fighting-age young men who are neither Syrian nor refugees from any war, along with their general preference for open borders, along with all that blather about beginning to start to commence a dialogue that will lead to a process that will lead to a framework for a potential understanding that will someday result in an agreement to solve this mess, suggests they are not serious about any of it. Their unwillingness in every issue, both foreign and domestic, to stand up for core western values, save its tolerance for Islam in all forms, only compounds an unavoidable mistrust.
Such cowardly obfuscations and willful blindness to harsh reality creates an opportunity for any politician shrewd enough to speak more bluntly, and of course Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is both shrewd and blunt enough to seize it. In front of a typically large crowd of adoring fans in South Carolina Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which goes beyond any of his rivals’ principled stand against that influx of supposed refugees, beyond even our own steadfastly Christian and rooting-for-western-civilization position, and into a realm that the more squishy moderate middle of America is likely to find uncomfortable. We expect that most of America will find Trump’s position the more sensible and comfortable of two extremes that have been offered, as we reluctantly admit we do, but we hold out hope that a more sensible solution can be found somewhere in between. All that blather about the majority of Muslims preferring peace and prosperity to war and poverty can’t be all wrong, given how human nature prevails in every corner of the world, and we’ll surely need some of their help as we’re forced to wade into the chaotic Muslim world, but Trump’s rhetoric cannot help in enlisting their essential support.
If you’re willing to listen to the entirety of Trump’s interminable South Carolina speech, you’ll notice that there’s little reference to to the history of western civilization and its longstanding clash with Islam, or the superior nature the Judeo-Christian west and its tradition of religious tolerance and careful democratic deliberation, but mostly an appeal to the public’s understandable outrage, and some self-regarding revisionist history about the Iraq War that does not jibe with his newfound bellicosity, and a whole lot about how very rich and successful and popular and utterly awesome is Donald Trump, and that none of it is at all Churchillian. The crowd goes wild, just as those Obama crowds used to go wild hearing about very special he is, with the same unquestioning approval of how his unique awesomeness will surely solve that 1,400-year-old squabble between the west and Islam, but we are left with the same lingering doubt.
The only possible Democratic nominee other than Clinton is a self-described socialist who thinks climate change is the bigger problem, but at least the entirety of the Republican field, even the most squishy establishment of them, is taking a more clear-eyed view of the matter than that. None of those challengers will get nearly as much media attention as Trump, who has reaped the benefits of being the hated press’ favorite target, but we hope their more carefully considered positions will be given some consideration by the Republican party’s primary voters.

— Bud Norman

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Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

America, Still in the Top 20 For Freedom

It’s a free country, according to an oft-used expression, but we can’t help noticing that America is not nearly so free as used it be. The good folks at the free-market Cato Institute have corroborated this observation in their latest “Human Freedom Index,” which surveys a wide range of indicators of personal and economic liberty, and finds that America is now only the 20th freest nation in the world.
Although we’re surprised to find America ranking behind such countries as Hong Kong and Chile, the rest of the report seems about right. The authors say America has fallen three spots in the rankings since 2012, and that “the decline reflects a long-term drop in every category of economic freedom and in its rule of law indicators,” then note that “the performance is worrisome and shows that the United States can no longer claim to be the leading bastion of liberty in the world.” We’re pleased to know that it’s as worrisome to them as it is to us, but presently an even greater worry is that so much of the public seems not at all concerned. The Democratic candidates seem more concerned with the problem of “income inequality,” which apparently will require ever more rules and regulations and limits on equality, while The Republican Party seems disinclined to put much of a fight against it, and all those independents who will decide the matter tend to vote for free stuff rather than freedom.
We can’t tell if the Cato Institute is taking into account such petty rules as light bulb bans and no smoking in even the seediest honky-tonks and mandatory seat belt use and limits of the size of soda one can purchase, but there are by now so many of these offenses against personal autonomy that even the communist Chinese rules of Hong Kong can’t keep up. More significant freedoms have also been noticeably diminished. The freedom of the press has declined to a point that reporters are being kept in roped enclosures at public events and their investigative reporting is being treated as a criminal conspiracy by the Department of Music. People are still free to attend church on Sunday, but freedom of religion no longer means that you can no longer act according to the beliefs taught there if a same-sex couple wants you to bake a cake for their wedding. Freedom of speech is still largely free of government regulation, unless you make a YouTube video that is critical of Islam and makes a convenient scapegoat for a failed Libyan policy, but the howling mods of the easily offended are doing a good enough job of constricting public debate. As for economic liberty, just ask any businessperson you know about how many permits and inspections and taxes and employment laws and equal opportunity requirements and reams of forms to be filled out they have to deal with.
Once upon a time in America the people would have been boiling tar and plucking feathers to be at least as free as the people of Hong Kong or Chile, and if you re-read the Declaration of Independence you’ll realize that Americans once went to their muskets over far less, but these days few seem to mind. The average citizen of the 20th freest country is now content with that status, so long as some of the income is redistributed his way and the games are playing on cable and there’s an illusion of broader freedom because everyone’s cussing on the comedy shows and everyone’s got a tattoo and those restrictive old notions of sexual morality are being punished by the state.
The economy and illegal immigration and the continuing difficulties with the more belligerent sorts of Muslims and the rest of the issues dominating the presidential debate are all important, but we’d love to see a candidate for the presidency or any other office make it his foremost issue to return to America to its rightful place as the leading bastion of liberty in the world. Such a project would do wonders for the economy, involve the necessary enforcement of America’s immigration laws, and strengthen America’s commitment to the freedom that those more belligerent sorts of Muslims threaten. We suspect would like it, too, just as Americans used to back when this really was a free country.

— Bud Norman

Islam in the News

Another American has been sadistically beheaded for the benefit of a worldwide internet audience, terrorists are frolicking poolside at an abandoned American embassy in Libya, the reports from northern England are every bit as shocking, and Islam is back in the news.
Some effort is usually made by the western world’s editors and producers to keep Islam out of the news, except for the occasional multi-cutural puff piece about the Religion of Peace around Ramadan or another op-ed about the impending threat of an Islamophobic backlash by those barbarians out there in the American heartlands, but it’s lately been impossible to completely excise the word from the coverage. The beheading was carried out by an organization variously described as ISIL or ISIS, and even the most polite press is obliged to explain on first reference that in either case the “IS” stands for “Islamic State.” Those shady-looking characters enjoying a cool dip in that American taxpayer-funded swimming pool are just as insistent on proclaiming their Islamic allegiance. The 1,400 English children who were sexually abused in the hitherto little-known village of Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 ordinarily wouldn’t warrant the world’s attention, but England’s more robust newspapers have at last found it noteworthy that the abuse continued so long because local authorities purposefully overlooked the overwhelming evidence against the Muslim perpetrators for fear of being accused of racism and religious prejudice.
By now everyone is familiar with the obligatory disclaimer that most of the world’s Muslims are peaceable people with no intentions to behead or blow-up or gang rape anyone you know, but only because it’s been appended to so many stories about the endless slaughter and countless atrocities committed in the name of Islam. Most Muslims truly would prefer a peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world, we’d like to think, but until they start enforcing this sensible preference on their more militant co-religionists the truism will be of no practical value to the rest of the world. Thus far the more militant are the ones imposing their preferences, with the relatively peaceable sorts of Muslims being the most numerous victims, and all the carefully worded disclaimers cannot hide the ugly consequences. Even the fear of being accused of racism and religious prejudice will not forever conceal the truth that much of the Islamic world is resolutely at war with the rest of us..
This has been true for the past 1,400 years or so, another unhappy fact that polite opinion would rather ignore, but the latest conflicts have been especially worrisome and worthy of frank consideration. The violence inflicted by the Islamic State features a brutality not seen since the glory days of Islam’s conquests, the land being conquered is broader and more resource-rich than in the past several centuries, western passports and porous borders and seized jetliners provide the terrorists with unprecedented opportunities for mass slaughter in almost any country, and there’s the problem that polite opinion in the rest of the world would rather ignore it. The President of the United States candidly admits that he has no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, and quite conceal his disappointment that the big speech he gave in Cairo and his boyhood days in an Indonesian Madrassa haven’t placated the head-chopping and land-grabbing Islamists of the world.
Another 350 troops are heading back to Iraq, whose safe and stable democracy was once one of the administration’s greatest achievements, and drone strikes and special forces missions are ongoing elsewhere in the Muslim world, but of course it’s all accompanied by lots of talk about peaceable majority of Muslims and the need for Israel to show restraint in its efforts to deal with more pressing problems concerning the religion of peace. There still seems some faint hope that the whole matter can be settled without any mention of any religion, and in a way that won’t interfere with the planned downsizing of the military, but it’s going to take some sympathetic coverage. Islam is back in the news, and is getting harder to ignore.

— Bud Norman